Audio Mastering by Stark Raven


Mastering, which takes place immediately prior to duplication/replication, is the finishing stage in the production process of a sound recording consisting of music, speech, or any other audio material. Mastering is both a technical and an artistic process. Technically, PMCD mastering prepares a recording for glass master duplication and error-free short-run duplication. Artistically, mastering optimizes the sonic qualities of a recording for playback across the widest possible range of listening environments.

Professional mastering does not use "finalizers" or "all-in-one" mastering-preset boxes. True audio mastering is a multi-stage process, applying a chain of fine audio processors in a series of small steps, to sculpt the final tone of a recording (see sidebar).

Mastering is also the point at which a group of individual tracks or songs is compiled into a unified collection - an album. Mastering takes into account not only the qualities of each individual track, but the transition from each track to the next, resulting in a consistent and cohesive sound across the entire album.


To carve a beautiful statue, a sculptor does not simply pound at a piece of stone with a big hammer. A sculpture is created using a series of gradually smaller tools, to bring out fine detail and impart a smooth polish to the completed work.
Instead of hammers and chisels, mastering "scuplts" the finished tone of a recording with a chain of fine audio processors such as compressors and equalizers. Used properly, these processors will be applied in a series of small steps, each bringing the recording closer to its final, polished tone.
PMCD Mastering Stages
  • Equalization
  • Compression
  • Stereo Imaging/Spatial Processing
  • Noise Reduction (as necessary)
  • De-Essing
  • Digital Limiting
  • Editing (as necessary)
  • Track Spacing
  • Fade-Ins/Outs/Crossfades
  • Overall Level-Setting/Loudness Maximizing
  • Frame-Accurate P/Q (Programming & Cueing) Log
  • Slow-Burned, Q-Checked Production-Master CD
The Mastering Process, Start to Finish

To set up your mastering session, please call or email the studio. Every project has different needs, and once we spend a few minutes discussing the details of your project, a much better estimate can be made for the cost and length of the session we should book for you.

It's a good idea to make this initial contact with the mastering studio during the mixing process, before your final mixes are committed. We can book a listening session prior to the mastering session, which gives us the best opportunity to talk about the direction your project needs to go in mastering. We will listen to your mixes together, do some referencing, and also make note of any improvements that can be made in your final mixes that will help bring the most out of your music in mastering.

When you're ready, we'll book the session. You are welcome and encouraged to be present in the studio and take part in your mastering session. Your input is an important part of determining the final sound of your album or project. While mastering does shape the audio to fit within a technical standard, that standard is subjective within a range, rather than an absolute. Your tastes and preferences give the mastering engineer the clearest guide as to how the sound of your album should fit within the appropriate technical spectrum. You should also bring one or two reference CD's to the listening session and/or the mastering session. These should be albums which represent a similar musical style and overall sound to your desired finished product.

During the mastering process, we will master each individual track, compile the album, burn the master CD at slow speed for highest accuracy/lowest error rates, and finally, test the master through a series of Q-Checks. Masters are provided in PMCD format on archival gold CD's (see "PMCD Standards"). Along with your master, you will receive a PQ log, which lists track titles, lengths, and start/end times. This frame-accurate PQ log must accompany your master when it is sent out for replication. You will also receive a reference copy of your master.  The PMCD should be reserved for replication, while the reference copy is what you will use for personal listening and copying.

It is recommended that you take a reference copy from the initial mastering session, and that the final PMCD master is burned only after the initial masters have been reviewed in your own listening environment. If further minor adjustments are desired at this stage, up to one hour hour of revision work will be done upon request at no additional charge (see "Mastering Rates " for details). Final PMCD burn can then proceed at such time as you have determined any revisions to be requested, or that you are satisfied with the initial masters. If the PMCD is burned during the initial session, revisions may still be requested, and revision time and new PMCD burn will be charged at the standard hourly rate.

Mastered projects are kept archived at the studio. Additional PMCD masters can be burned in the future, if needed, for further duplication runs of the project.